Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Barack the Vote

See, what people need to understand is that we need fresh blood in the White House, Obama has a long history of grassroots organizing, leadership and service and Michelle Obama will be the best first lady ever!

I took a blind voter's poll solely based on the issues I believe in and, as it turns out, Barack Obama and John Edwards are my top two candidates. I am also more than mindful that Barack announced his candidacy and began his campaign in 'post-Katrina' and 'Hurricane Bush' New Orleans.

Merry Christmas and Barack the Vote!

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Ice Age on Video

Extreme Cruelty Part II

So, here are a number of videos well worth your watching that illuminate what I've written in my previous post entitled, "The Ice Age". Watch the videos in order and you'll be well-educated.

Save Public Housing in New Orleans

This led to the protest we heard about but here is mostly raw footage:

New Orleans City Council Shuts Down Public Housing Debate

Two of them you see in the above video then appear in an interview with Amy Goodman:

Tasered Citizens Debate on Democracy Now

Tasered Citizens Debate on Democracy Now Part 2

What is the cause of all this, you ask? Well, I discovered a villain we can put our finger on. Apparently, from the first video, we see California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, touring the public housing and being astounded at how well those structures held up. She later introduces a bill that sweeps past the House and is blocked by one man in the Senate:

"The Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act guarantees the redevelopment of the New Orleans public housing projects into mixed income communities and the return of thousands of working class families to the city, supporters say.

Despite overwhelming support, the bill was killed in committee by Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie."

This rep is deeply concerned about the cycle of poverty but apparently not too concerned about his party's cyclical penchant for hypocrisy. You see, he ran on a pro-marriage, pro-family ticket, all self-righteous and stuff and, well, you know what happened. His name was found on a madam's phone line for solicitation of sexual services from a prostitute. <> And from the Louisiana Speaks Newsletter:

"The biggest obstacle is Sen. David Vitter," said James Perry, president of the Louisiana Housing Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit groups that has been lobbying for passage of the measure. "He sees the bill as a win for Sen. [Mary] Landrieu should it be passed, and he doesn't want to allow her that win . . . . But political experts say the senatorial flap is not unexpected, given Louisiana's rough-and-tumble politics and Vitter and Landrieu's chilly relationship. Landrieu is up for re-election next year and has emerged as the GOP's top target among incumbent senators, in part because of the state's rightward shift in recent elections."

Ah. So Pittsburgh is not the only City where politicians toy with the quality of Black peoples' lives for their own political benefit.

"Asked whether he was trying to deny Landrieu the ability to take home victory in a re-election year, Vitter responded, "My motivation is we shouldn't rebuild the same housing that was there. We're trying to express clearly what our reservations are."

No one was asking to rebuild but to renovate what was still standing and livable while there is still a tremendous housing shortage and a crisis.

When asked about his specific objections, [Vitter's] aides point to an opinion piece last month in the New Orleans Times-Picayune in which he laid out general opposition, saying it would halt a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plan to raze four housing complexes.

Uh, yeah, because there's a housing shortage following government neglect (not listening to the Army Corp of Engineers), a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina) and more government neglect (Hurricane Bush after the levees broke).

Even Barack Obama weighed in, by writing a letter to George Bush asking to stop the demolition. We're all supportive of public housing reform and mixed income housing but, as logic would dictate:

"No public housing should be demolished until HUD can point to an equivalent number of replacement units in the near vicinity," Obama said.

But, irony of all ironies, racism and classism comes with a price---the working poor can't find any place to live affordably, so the working poor can't work properly. Therefore, the middle and upperclass residents and tourists in New Orleans have no one to serve them. Ahhh, justice!:

"The shortage of affordable workforce housing really is straining our economic recovery," said Barbara Johnson, chief operating officer for Greater New Orleans Inc. "It's a combination of housing and worker shortage. One is related to the other. You have employers that are not able to fill contracts, work orders, take on new contracts."

All of a sudden, razing public housing has a double edged sword, eh? The whole idea of the lazy, good-for-nothing, crime-ridden population that actually made up what we call 'the working poor' are shown their worth via their absence:

"When you go to the hospital, who's going to take care of you? When you go to the dry cleaners, who's going to greet you?" said Jan Robert, executive director of the St. Tammany Healthcare Alliance, who has struggled with labor shortages. "All we talk about is entry-level workers -- where we get them, where we find them and how we find them housing."

So, it appears that what public housing advocates should do is sue the City and State and, in between time, engage in continuous Days of Absence.

Thank you, Ted Shine!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Ice Age

I'll never forget the day I heard esteemed Black scholar, Cornel West, refer to this era as "the ice age" because, he said, America was in an era of indifference. Indeed.

Extreme Cruelty
Yesterday, in New Orleans, protesters tried to stop the city council from voting for demolition of four large project complexes that presently have 4500 livable units. Instead, they are opting for the tax credit profiteering of the HUD office and are replacing the communities with 'mixed income housing' to the tune of 744 units. No plan for temporary housing, no plan for allowing people who lived there to come back (it's called "the right of return"). Let's take a moment and think on this for a moment . . .

Yes, the police used pepperspray against the people trying to pile into City Council chambers but, hey, they had to, right? But why should City Council be comfortable only having to look out at the 300 available seats? They should feel the dis-ease of overcrowding, if nothing more than to understand the unimaginably dismissive posture they've adopted. It can all be summed up in this quote:

HUD wants to demolish the buildings, most of them damaged by Hurricane Katrina, so developers can take advantage of tax credits and build new mixed-income neighborhoods.

The council's approval of the demolition is required under the city's charter.

HUD says the redevelopment, in the works before Katrina hit, will mark an end to the city's failed public housing experiment that lumped the poor into crime-ridden complexes and marooned them outside the life of the rest of the city.

Aw, HUD. Who knew the federal government cared so much about public housing? Yep, now is the perfect time to talk about its failed experiment (as if any of us would disagree). Hours later, the demolition was unanimously approved, whereas before there were council members hedging, their conscience tearing at their souls.

I guess seeing people protest and violence break out was enough to want them all gone, eh? See pictures of the demolition as citizens are protesting. It really can't get anymore cruel than shrinking housing at the time when it's so desperately needed and so scarce. All they asked is for temporary housing until there can be 1:1 placement. And to be able to come home.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we here in Pittsburgh's Historic Hill District cannot let a rich, white, corporation with a billionaire owner, host itself in our neighborhood, take up all of our parking spots and not give much of anything back in terms of proper reinvestment to a poor, Black, working-class community. Even if you don't believe, we believe. We have a dream and, yes, it does take money.

We won't repeat the defeat from 50 years ago, when "Hurricane Civic Arena" displaced thousands of residents and never replaced the housing the way they said they would---and then engaged in benign neglect after residents got mad at the broken promises and engaged in riots during the 1960's. It's cause and effect, folks.

And I could not be more proud of the people of New Orleans for protesting, even passionately so. Indeed, it shows me that global warming is a real and welcomed effort.

Extreme, Visionary Kindness
"He Had a Dream" But at least this is real. When I entered graduate school, we read a book on teaching with a statement I've never forgotten---"students will float to the mark you set". To tell a group of third graders that they will be going to college is phenomenal and wonderful because the prison industrial complex is determined by third grade reading scores. Yes. So, either you will believe and assist in these kids' education---or many of them will be going to prison. Plain and simple. I'm not surprised this column is from Marc Fisher from The Washington Post. I'm thinking maybe the PG posted it because it involves the word "Promise", as in "Pittsburgh Promise". We'll see.

In the meantime, at least the University of Pittsburgh brought back the "Upward Bound" program, which helps high school students prepare for college. With an initial grant from the U.S. Department of Education of approximately $485,000 for its first year, it will serve 112 students who will be the first in their generation to attend college. If the program meets their objectives, it will be funded for an additional three years. Good. It actually works.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Fistful of Dollars

Lots of news on the Hill and CBA talk this week. And since my blog is reflective of my column in the Pittsburgh City Paper, here is the latest:

A Fistful of Dollars:
If the Pittsburgh Penguins want to play, someone has to pay

"I always enjoyed it when Clint Eastwood squinted, flicked his cigarette and faced his enemy down with a cold, hard stare. Well, here in the Hill District we’re at that point with the city, the county and the Pittsburgh Penguins."

You should definitely read my column with another main article in the CP (History Repeating? by Chris Young) in which you will find such gems as:

“We’re not asking for a handout,” [Eugene] Taylor said, wearing a One Hill sticker on his chest. “Just a fair share.”


“We’re going to be ready to sign it on our side,” the mayor said. But, he added, “I’m not saying it’s a requirement for [planning-commission] approval.”

"The mayor did, however, say that there are “many disagreements” between sides."


“He is virtually saying he’s not supporting a CBA,” Milliones said. “You can’t not support funding to the community and still support the CBA. It’s a contradiction.

“A CBA is a request for financial support.”


“It’s past time for talks,” [One Hill CBA Chair Carl] Redwood said. “It’s time for action.”

Uhh, yeah!

Then, there's the New Pittsburgh Courier article by Cynthia Levy entitled, "Mayor, Penguins say 'no' to 'cash payments' to the Hill" and has such gems as:

“When you start talking about payments made in the future, questions begin to arise like who will get the money and who will disburse the money. What we are in favor of is targeted initiatives and finding financial support for challenges,” [Former Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force Co-Chair---who endorsed the Isle of Capri, temporarily resigned Hill House Board member and Senior Consultant to the Penguins, Ron] Porter said."

All, please see what was gained in Los Angeles (the kick-start for Community Benefits Agreements) when the Staples Center arena was being 'hosted' in a poor Black and Latino neighborhood. Nothing wrong with so-called initiatives but absolutely everything we have asked for is legitimate and the programs and initiatives we need sponsored costs money. Period. I really hate that rich, white corporations always find a Black person to be the frontman for their selfishness, greed or otherwise callous affairs. One year ago, "Pittsburgh First" found Rev. James Simms to be one of the few preachers with the sole distinction of promoting a gambling facility.

"Since terms that required the Penguins to engage in a community benefits agreement with Hill residents were never added to the leasing agreement (despite resident requests) the Penguins are only under a “good faith” agreement, according to Councilwoman Tonya Payne.

Yeah, it wasn't added because you didn't support that move and you voted against it, Tonya Payne, even though we asked you not to, so that we would not have to negotiate "in good faith" with a rich, white corporation and a billionaire owner. Thanks, alot!

“On June 4, 2007, a letter was distributed stating they would in good faith work toward a CBA,” Payne said. It was not given out until after the lease signing.

Right. Which is why you are now touting "good faith" Tonya Payne. God, you are disgusting and an embarrassment. What did we do to deserve you as our representative? Please find some way to do the right thing with the little time you have left to be in office.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mayor Ravenstahl vs. Volunteer Historic Hill Citizenry

I missed Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's "Neighborhood Meeting" in the Hill District on Wednesday, December 12, 2007. But I am appalled at what I am seeing and hearing. Your thoughts before I go any further?

Transcript, Part I:

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: Thank you, I’ll respond to the CBA stuff first.

I support the Hill District Masterplan, that I know that has been discussed, made that commitment sometime ago. I certainly support the resource center. For those of you that are unfamiliar, the city and county agreed to set up a resource center in the Hill District, staff it, to provide opportunities for individuals that come in, uh, to look and, uh, find job opportunities. I support that in the Community Benefits Agreement.

Support the concept of the grocery store in the Hill District

Support in working with, s’cuse me, the YMCA on providing a multipurpose center, uh, in this community. I know we’re talking about the block of Centre Avenue in the Hill District and we’ll do whatever I can to support getting the funding from the state to do that.

Uh, support the SEA and the Penguins, uh, meeting regularly with the community to talk about the construction schedule, the staging, etc., uh, all the opportunities for the, uh, members of the Hill District.

Uh, I do not support cash payments to any organization or individual, uh, in the Hill District. I want to be clear with that. I do not support, for example, Marimba, a cash payment to you to do the Masterplan.

Marimba Milliones [from the background]: I didn’t ask for that, Mayor Ravenstahl…

Mayor: I do support investment in programs and initiatives in, uh, our community and I think there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity, uh, to do that. So, that’s where I stand on the Community Benefits Agreement. In terms of timeframe, uh, I think we can, very realistically, uh, do so, before that, between now and, uh, when it, when the Masterplan goes to the Planning Commission.

I think we’re ready to, uh, put this all in writing. Again, we’re not going to agree on everything but, uh, I can guarantee you that, we’ll, uh, at least have a presentation to you all, uh, before that goes before the Masterplan approval process.

And so, that’s where I’m at on the Community Benefits Agreement and I talked to the County Executive today about that and I think those are great opportunities for the Hill District.

[The Mayor continues for another minute or so, talking about the Pittsburgh Promise and increasing the student population before reopening schools. Then he concludes and the open commenting period begins].

[Ms. Milliones stands and begins asking her question and the exchange between the Mayor and the residents begin, with a distinct discussion on cash v. funding]

We refer you to the dictionary for the denotation and ask you to think about the connotation, especially in a working class, poor, Black neighborhood full of volunteers trying to make their community better:

cash –noun

1. money in the form of coins or banknotes, esp. that issued by a government.

2. money or an equivalent, as a check, paid at the time of making a purchase.

[no one asked him for cash]

funding - noun

1. financial resources provided to make some project possible; "the foundation provided support for the experiment"

2. the act of financing

Thank you, Chris Ivey.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Countdown to a CBA and Proper Reinvestment

This was an old post that I did not get back to but here it is now, still relevant and clarifying.

The questions are:

Will the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team (as a corporate entity, we are not talking about the players and/or fans), which has been siphoning off of the Black Hill District community for decades and benefited from the government's benign neglect of the Hill, ever give anything substantial back to the community, especially now that the corporation has received millions of dollars of public subsidy (we pay taxes, too!)?

There are two groups of representatives bodies at the table seeking proper reinvestment and/or a Community Benefits Agreement:

1. The Hill District ministers, residents and stakeholder's group - a representative body of persons who stood in the freezing cold, in front of the arena on January 28, 2007, to demand Hill representation at the table, as news media and others reported the Pens were slated to sign their lease agreement with the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA) and the County in order to stay in the city. And, the group of persons who presented a "term sheet" of their own in April 2007, which included a demand for a CBA as well as other forms of reinvestment, such as 30% minority employment, first source hiring, a community development fund, appointment to boards, control of our land, etc.

2. The One Hill CBA Coalition, formed in June 2007, with relative ease, particularly after this first group secured an agreement to allow for six months to engage in a CBA process. This is a worthy cause, as CBAs are popping up all across the country. However, since this would be the first time such an agreement would occur within the state of Pennsylvania, let alone the city of Pittsburgh, it was imperative that the Hill District community issue its own agenda to ensure proper reinvestment. The One Hill CBA was empowered and funded by Pittsburgh UNITED (Unions and Neighborhoods Investing in Transforming Economic Development), which was funded by a number of foundations but mostly the Falk Fund and the Heinz Endowments.

In short, Pittsburgh UNITED was slated to be a new era of a Civil Rights Movement (or maybe even a Poor People's Campaign) that would provide institutional change and ensure that a CBA would be the standard for any large development with public subsidy.

Well, let's just say that the dream still eludes us; and for many reasons that I won't get into at this point in time. However, the strengths and weaknesses of all of these groups within the importance of this entire cause will be explored as I continue to outline the happenings in the final lapses of this here hockey ring.

As of this moment, the Pens have refused to provide any funds whatsoever for the Community Development fund and have not signed off on any other plank or concern. Neither has the City. Neither has the County.

Yet, the Pens must go before City Planning on December 11th and the general trajectory of a CBA campaign is that if there is no signed agreement, the community will ask that City Planning NOT approve the plan of the developer. If there is a signed agreement, the community agrees to support the developer.

Our City Council Representative, Tonya Payne, is in the unique position of also being a URA Board member and has a 'special' relationship with the Pens. And, yet, Payne stopped coming to One Hill meetings over a month ago and there is no agreement signed with One Hill, the group she used to try to isolate and eradicate those whom she believes are aligned with her rival and former incumbent challenger, Sala Udin. She won the election but one cannot tell based on her continued paranoia and negative, divisive behavior.

Now, Mayor Ravenstahl, who just won re-election with a 10-1 margin in Black communities over his competitor, Mark DeSantis (R), definitely owes. And it goes without saying that he has a 'special relationship' with the Pens, as he flew off into the sunset on Ron Burkle's jet months ago and more recently, was treated to a charity golf game to the tune of thousands of dollars. Fine. But Pens' fans were not your swing vote and you did not have a 10-1 margin over your competitor anywhere else.

Perhaps that's why he was still campaigning in the Historic Hill District on election day. I heard he came by the Madison elementary school (now closed, btw) twice.

(thanks, Agent Ska, great work!)

So, all that to say it'll be interesting when the Dec. 11th City Planning hearing arrives; and even more interesting during the January vote.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Love You, Chester Gregory!

I'm a fan of Chester Gregory ever since I saw him in "The Jackie Wilson Story", a show I saw at least four times. I just checked out his MySpace page and saw this hilarious video from "The Daily Show" where he and Jon Stewart are spoofing Senator Larry "I just have a wide stance" Craig with R. Kelly's 'Trapped in the Closet" song. Check it out:

Love it!

You Go Chester!

Jon Stewart, I've been a fan of yours for a long time, too!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Brother, Brother, Brother

Oh Yes!
Bishop Tutu is visiting the Burgh this week. I really love him. He spent a year on my college campus and we got used to seeing him so much, we used to yell and wave at him across the yard. Imagine seeing this archbishop emeritus in a black starter jacket. He's a wonderful man with a wonderful spirit. He'll be visiting Mumia Abu Jamal in prison, lecturing at Pitt, doing service at Calvary Church in Shadyside. Peep the article for details.

Ain't Right!
"Man Jailed for Yelling at Dog"
KDKA-TV covered this story that happened last week and it's ridiculous. After being startled by a police dog and then yelling at the dog, he was arrested. The judge was wise and this man was released but he was kept from his job and had to have this experience.What does a brother have to do to get some rights and be treated like a real citizen around here----be a dog?

You'll Learn!
"East Liberty Home Invader Shot, Killed"
See? This is why you can't go busting up in peoples' houses, violating privacy and whatnot. The story from the other side seems shady too but, still . . .

Detectives said Mr. Davis and Mr. Gibson barged into the apartment, and that Mr. Davis pointed his gun at the occupants, ordering them to lie on the floor.

He and Mr. Gibson walked one victim to the rear of the apartment at gunpoint, then returned to the living room and approached the others who were hiding in the kitchen.

When Mr. Davis pointed a gun at one of them, police said, the man shot him in the head with a shotgun.

Mr. Davis could not be identified for many hours after the killing, but the medical examiner's office eventually determined his identity from fingerprints.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Last Lecture

Professor Randy Pausch will be on Oprah today. When I was in college, I would often attend the "Last Lecture series", because it was designed to have professors share their insights with audience members, as if it were their "last lecture". I was watching the news one day when the local news channel actually offered something inspiring---live web feed of Randy Pausch's last lecture---literally---as he is dying of pancreatic cancer. If you watch it, you will have joined millions of others who've downloaded it. I am inspired but also saddened by his situation and that of his family. And, unfortunately, I can relate all too well to it. My uncle died of liver cancer and, in the end, refused any rigorous treatment to try to extend his life. Although I was devastated, I know it would have been selfish to have him extend his life, only to be sickly and miserable and not really LIVE. So, I learned something about courage and reading Dr. Pausch's cancer diary has helped, in many ways.

May you live and rest in harmony and peace, Dr. Pausch. You touched my life and I never got a chance to know you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why Many Northside United's Points Are Valid

Believe it or not, I do not just sit back and criticize. In private, I have offered many a point of strategy, assistance, philosophizing and the like, mostly to One Hill leadership* and rarely to Pittsburgh UNITED, mostly because they take their cues (erroneously) from One Hill leadership.

*And, for the record, when I say One Hill leadership, I am always excluding Bomani Howze, whom I believe is the only honest person with integrity on the Executive Committee.

I explained in an earlier post that I could not believe it when I heard Mark Fatla explain the contract they signed with Don Barden's Majestic Star Casino, which stated that there would be "no negative impact" from the casino industry being on the Northside and that Barden would pay for any negative impact proven to be caused by his casino.

Bruce Barron, President of "No Dice" wrote a rather stellar Op-Ed, that I must respond to, piece-by-piece. Barron writes:

Our nation's increasing propensity to pretend the dark side of gambling doesn't exist was on dramatic display at the North Side's New Hazlett Theater the other night.

The one-act play was billed as a North Side Leadership Conference forum on the social and economic impacts of the casino Don Barden plans to build some day soon between the Carnegie Science Center and the West End Bridge. The performance -- at least the scripted part of it -- was selective, to say the least. Of 36 slides in the conference's PowerPoint outline, 11 started with the word "Jobs!" and none mentioned problem gambling or its social consequences.

Wow, they must all take their cues from the same playbook. This is painfully familiar to what "Pittsburgh First" (the Pittsburgh Penguins, Isle of Capri Casino, Nationwide Realty and 'the community' - Tonya Payne's people, an organization which I chose to call "Hill District Last") kept dangling in front of the Hill District community on a near-constant basis. And they always come with semi-flashy powerpoints or DVD's.

Since Mr. Barden has offered the conference $1 million a year in "community benefits" donations -- or about one-tenth of what North Side residents can be expected to gamble away at the casino -- it seemed likely that this rosy view of gambling was a tacit part of the agreement. But the question period became surprisingly candid.

For the record, while it is extremely important to recognize that the demand for proper reinvestment is nothing new, it is only fair to Pittsburgh UNITED and the entire Community Benefits Agreement Movement that Mark Falta stop pretending as if this is a CBA. I think he has co-opted this language for convenience-purposes and to slight PU / Northside United; but there is supposed to be a distinct process and partnership with what we now call a "CBA" and it's more than a bit disingenuous on his part to refer to the NSLC agreement in this manner.

Executive Director Mark Fatla noted that, when the conference sought input from the 14 neighborhood organizations that comprise its constituency, the message was clear and consistent: The neighborhood groups didn't want a casino in their community and they didn't want the conference to endorse Mr. Barden's proposal no matter what he offered.

Well, that was smart. It's certainly nothing personal to Don Barden, who appears to be a stellar businessman with a lot of integrity and character (despite his chosen field of work), in the same way that it wasn't personal towards the Isle of Capri Casino company.

Unable to dangle the endorsement carrot, the conference nevertheless negotiated a monetary agreement with Mr. Barden and offered friendly testimony on its dealings with him to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

This is far more than what Pittsburgh First (Hill District Last) was offering. But, I won't begrudge the Northside Leadership Conference for seeking reinvestment because the Northside did not pass Act 71 and allow gaming into the State. Like many cities, we have all had to deal with this, particularly in light of our city's then-pending bankruptcy and the state's poor financial status.

But when it sought a contribution to offset increased public safety and addiction counseling costs, said conference board Chair Joe Lawrence, Mr. Barden's response was cool: "I already pay for those things at the tax office."

I have to say that, in many ways, Barden is correct. Pennsylvania has the highest level of taxes against the casino industry and it is up to the people (especially those who don't own property but will suffer from the negative effects of gambling) to petition their government to set aside funds to address the negative impact. It is not just the responsibility of the casino industry because people have free choice. Northside United must create a CBA with the City and County around these issues, in particular.

According to Mr. Fatla, the conference asked what it should do about these negative impacts on its community and Mr. Barden denied that his casinos cause any negative impacts.

I'm not so sure what would be so special about Don Barden's Majestic Star that there would be no negative impact. I just don't believe this because the casino industry, overall, negatively impacts the environment.

So the conference added to the agreement a paragraph stating that it could pursue compensation from the casino for any documentable negative impacts its presence should cause.
That paragraph might just prove historic should the conference's current lovefest with Mr. Barden ever turn sour, because many analysts foresee a day when the casino industry becomes as vulnerable to civil lawsuits as the tobacco industry. (So far only a few lawsuits worldwide by addicted gamblers have succeeded in court, but one activist state attorney general could change all that.)

I guess someone should have mentioned to the NSLC that it is very hard to prove that a casino caused direct harm to someone or a situation.

Barron is right about this. More and more people are suffering and the casino industry does not have many (or enough) regulations upon it. I do believe it will go the way of the tobacco industry and we'll see a ton of "truth" commercials in about ten years. Until that time, the nationwide honeymoon phase will continue; and I am unwilling to blame Don Barden for this national and international obsession. Human beings enjoy being self-destructive, don't we?

It thus behooves the conference to obtain solid baseline data on existing levels of problem gambling on the North Side, because gambling addiction typically doubles in the immediate vicinity of a new casino. With the social cost of each addicted gambler estimated at about $13,000, that's a $5 million- to $10 million-a-year tab the conference might be able to stick to Mr. Barden.

So true. But before and during that time, this is also very much the responsibility of the City and the State.

Ironically, had the conference taken its cue from the neighborhood groups and opposed Mr. Barden's proposal rather than cozying up to him, it might not have a casino to deal with at all.

I'm not sure about that, Bruce. The people in Philadelphia (CasinoFree Philly) are still fighting a very tough battle that is quite honorable but is still ongoing; and they have actual paid organizers and staff members at their disposal. If this same battle would have taken this long in Pittsburgh, the Isle of Capri's temporary casino on the Melody Lot site would have been opened for close to six months now. The fact of the matter is that for some reason, people are thoroughly enjoying giving their hard-earned money away. So, what do you do?

Instead, it laid down passively while vociferous Hill District opposition to Isle of Capri helped to make Mr. Barden's Majestic Star a winner.

As the organizer of such "vociferous Hill District opposition" (otherwise known as the Raise Your Hand! No Casino on the Hill Campaign), I will effectively take my bow with the entire community of folks here and across the nation who assisted us. However, I must remind everyone that the Hill's win is the City's win because the "Pittsburgh First" plan was the only one to place its Casino right within the street grid of our neighborhood and in our front yard. I am now pushing a request to make sure there is no casino in anyone's residential community from this point forward.

And let's be honest here: 99.9% of Pittsburgh never believed that Don Barden, an African American, had half of a chance to win the Category 2 slots license for the City of Pittsburgh. So, while Northsiders should have been more proactive, it was plain ole shortsightedness, lack of proper leadership, apathy and a healthy serving of racism that is the source of what is happening now.

Now the conference is dutifully holding casino job fairs to present Mr. Barden with a ready-made work force.

While enjoying its honeymoon with the casino, the conference has been fighting a rearguard action against a competing community organization seeking a place at the bargaining table. Twice the other night the conference forum moderator pleaded for civil discourse, asking speakers to "be a model for our children."

The raw emotions expressed at the "casino design" meeting are honest expressions of disgust, disenfranchisement and anger. I do hope, however, that Pittsburgh UNITED is not unfairly manipulating or exploiting the mostly Black, working-class and/or working-poor persons so upset at this point in time. For example, is it the most advantageous, at this point in time, to create a totally adversarial relationship with either Barden or the NSLC?

And on the flip side, one must wonder . . . how many Black people were in the room when this deal with the Northside Leadership Conference was made? And if there were any, how many of them represented the Black, working-class and/or working-poor from the Northside?

We must ask . . .

While Barron concludes:

Perhaps, at a time when gambling -- especially youth gambling -- is America's fastest-growing addiction, the conference should consider what message it sends to our children by overlooking gambling's well-documented social impacts and by portraying casinos as an honorable partner to be patronized.

Mmph. Strong words. Bruce Barron is president of No Dice, a Pittsburgh-area organization that opposes the expansion of legalized gambling in Pennsylvania (nodicepa@aol.com). And he's right that adolescent gambling is America's hidden epidemic.

America's gambling explosion and the passing of Act 71 has put us all in a very awkward position. I am not willing to lay this entire burden upon the shoulders of Don Barden; and, at the same time, it's very important for all of us to understand the negative impact of the casino industry, as well as the responsibilities of the City and State.

What I did in "Dr. Goddess Goes to Jail" was to introduce a character named "Betty" who, after being tossed in jail for observing civil disobedience (a criminal act I created in my play), shared a poem that moved her cellmates as well as the multitudes of folks in the audience who came to see our ensemble production. The poem was called "Confessions of a Slots Queen" and I'll share more on that later. It is, however, one of the most popular pieces in the entire production.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

So, What is the Problem with CBAs, the Neighborhood, One Hill and Pittsburgh United?

Good question and, really, there is just so much. That's why there's the need for the series. But in the meantime, the long and short of it is this:

1. The City of Pittsburgh (and many of its neighborhoods, particularly the Black and poor) is at a pivotal point in its history. We can all either sink or swim as a city and there are no guarantees.

2. While the City of Pittsburgh has been voted "the most livable city" (yet again), the fact of the matter is the City of Pittsburgh is actually "one of the worst cities to live in" for African Americans. According to the research of Dr. Ralph Bangs and Dr. John Wallace of the Center for the Study of Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh, African Americans living here are some of the most disadvantaged in the entire nation.

Yes, yes, it seems hard to believe but this is obvious to anyone who has traveled outside of this City and encounters other African Americans who are, let's say, a bit lighter on their feet, to say the least.

3. The Community Benefits Agreement Movement is a most worthy and just cause when, if implemented correctly, can change the quality of peoples' lives in a very real and tangible way, not just with "good jobs" but certainly inclusive of them. It has worked very well in Los Angeles, Detroit and New Haven with wondrous results.

So, what is the problem?

It's not working so well here in this City.

5. Pittsburgh UNITED is an acronym for "Unions and Neighborhoods Invested in Transforming Economic Development. Pittsburgh UNITED, whose funding structure was outlined as follows:

Pittsburgh UNITED was borne out of a three-year, $500,000 grant jointly funded by local foundations (Falk Foundation, Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, POISE, and the Women and Girls Foundation), with a match from the
Ford Foundation (Violet Law, Pittsburgh City Paper)

6. Pittsburgh UNITED funds the One Hill CBA Coalition (the first project) and Northside United (the second project), the both of which are guinea pigs to see if this can work in our City.

7. One Hill's slogan is "One Hill, Many Voices" but many of us feel that our voices are not being heard within One Hill and will never be heard within the organization. We feel that One Hill is in need of radical reform.

8. Many of us also feel that Pittsburgh UNITED is not doing what it is supposed to be doing and is also in need of radical reform.

9. As radical reformists (and I am certainly one of them), we get lied upon, called names, silenced within the organization and also cast out (literally, we were kicked out of One Hill just last week).

10. Many people do not know that One Hill was formed against a large portion of Hill District leadership and representation. It was also done using the resources of Pittsburgh UNITED.

The question is why?

The short answer is that folks are trying to get away with the least amount of reinvestment and the rest of us are demanding more reinvestment, greater vision and greater leadership.

In addition, while we have been trying to explain why, it's important to understand the history and understand the issues. Ironically enough, the Hill District's divisions have been exacerbated and now the Northside's divisions have also been exacerbated. If Pittsburgh UNITED is at the center of these controversies, is this what the foundation community asked for when it funded this group? And is Pittsburgh UNITED helping our city become Pittsburgh DIVIDED?

Listen to this podcast. I actually don't agree with Fred Honsberger but just listen first.

So much to cover in so little time.

You should start here, with another blogger's report, to get a sense of what's been happening.

Is it old quarrels, as Bill Toland surmised in his article (which included many errors but we give him points for trying and deduct some for not doing more followup before going to press, although the impending public meeting at the Arena provided more pressure than he probably wanted).

And if it is old quarrels, should they be put in proper, present-day context, as this same blogger from above has done? Indeed, he says that it is largely Tonya Payne fomenting this divison. And many of us must agree.

All roads will eventually lead back to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are only doing what corporations are known to do; but this would not work without the cooperation of certain selfish entities involved. In this scenario, all side roads lead back to Tonya Payne, who is supposed to be OUR representative, not the Pens'. She connected with Carl Redwood and possibly some others to enact her divisive plan.

I was with the group of representative persons who stood up on January 28, 2007, to tell the City, County and the Pens that there would be no signing of leases and just moving forward without us at the table. We were concerned about this give away of public lands, the public subsidy, no representation at the table (from elected officials or otherwise), the Don Barden factor (unless someone else had a $350 million dollar plan to spur development?), the non-responsiveness of the Pens during the gaming application fiasco (just months prior) and our need for a master plan, to not repeat the mistakes of the past and to usher our community into the 21st century with power and promise.

Our lives, literally, depend upon it.

What unfolded was "One Hill", Pittsburgh UNITED's role in One Hill and the manner in which we were treated by both groups.

So, here is some mandatory reading for you to understand. Most of these are the most recent articles in descending order. Please let me know if you have any questions:

Over the Hill: A history lesson for those who would rather forget (Revelations, Pittsburgh City Paper)

Split Decisions: Hill District advocates may be divided but they won't be conquered (Revelations, Pittsburgh City Paper)

Give Up the Ghost (of Sala Udin): Hill District activists are quite capable of thinking for themselves, thank you very much (Revelations, Pittsburgh City Paper)

One Hill or One Hot Mess? (Christian Morrow, New Pittsburgh Courier) - This article caused a huge uproar in One Hill and they blame me for this, even though I was the last one contacted and interviewed or whom even knew about the article.

Write on: No Half-Stepping in One Hill (LTE, New Pittsburgh Courier, My response to clarify my position and put my quote in context)

Write on: Implied Corruption Must be Addressed (LTE, New Pittsburgh Courier, Carl Redwood's response to the above, which actually reinforces my original claim)

Teeing Off: Rough questions on the Mayor's Golfing Excursions (Revelations, Pittsburgh City Paper)

Minority Report: Pittsburgh ignores the plight of its black citizens at its own peril (Revelations, Pittsburgh City Paper)

A Wider Arena: You're not the only victim of government negligence, Mario (Revelations, Pittsburgh City Paper)

These articles do not cover all of the intricate problems and issues within One Hill and Pittsburgh United because we were really trying not to embarrass anyone. But, at this point, we have been left with little choice in the matter.

We cannot wait and we cannot afford to lose this battle because it is much bigger than us, much bigger than any one person, organization or even CBA.

We live, work and play here; and it is ultimately our responsibility. Our silence would be complicity and we are not complicit. We stand firm, vocal and proud, calling for radical reform before it's too late.

Support the Whole Hill. Support the cause.

Thank You to Attendees of Critical Analysis Panel

Thank you very much to all of you who attended the "Critical Discussion and Analysis of the Community Benefits Agreement Process, Neighborhood Self-Determination and the One Hill Controversy" at the University of Pittsburgh.

Our discussion was riveting and I’m very pleased with the participation, the folks who came from the Hill (including One Hill members) and even from other neighborhoods, members of Pittsburgh United and the students, faculty and administrators who were in attendance. I was truly pleased by the amount and makeup of the audience, especially given our date changes and the many conflicting events occurring throughout the city.

Certainly, One Hill leadership and that of Pittsburgh United were missed on the panel, as it was never intended to be without these two organizations in formal representation; but many thanks to our panelists:

David Richardson, Center for Family Excellence, Hill District

Good Reverend Doctor James McLemore, Bethel AME Church, the oldest church in the Hill, displaced from the Lower Hill in the '50's

Marimba Milliones, Chair, Hill Community Development Corporation

Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis, Department of Africana Studies, Chair, Historic Hill Initiative

and our moderator,

Erv Dyer, Senior Editor, Pitt News, formerly served 16 years with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

for adding such a great level of diversity in perspective and approach, with regard to social services, faith-based institutions, development agencies and, certainly, the role of the press. My work was to provide an historical and political analysis of how we arrived at this point in the City and in our neighborhood. We then all answered questions posed by our moderator and then opened it up to Q & A from the audience.

Special thanks, also, to Dr. Ralph Bangs and Dr. John Wallace, of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Race and Social Problems for providing the kind of statistical analysis of “the state of Black Pittsburgh” so desperately needed for the City and important to include on this panel.

We were all able to provide perspective and insight into the Hill District and the CBA process, within a free, open, safe and secure space, to the extent that we all learned something and are now even more committed to the goal of securing a CBA and ushering the Hill District community swiftly and powerfully into the 21st century.

While others were and are intent to believe that the discussion and analysis were meant to be a One Hill / Pittsburgh United bash fest, everyone proved otherwise and we remain firmly committed to the idea and implementation of the series. The Chair of our department was exceptionally pleased with the discussion and found it entirely necessary, as did everyone else.

We lost some of our panelists with our date change but we will sweep them up again.

In the future, One Hill and Pittsburgh United will be invited again, in their formal capacity and we hope they each take advantage of the opportunity to teach and to learn.

I'll take your questions now.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Critical Analysis Discussion and Debate on the CBA Process, Neighborhood Self-Determination and the "One Hill" Controversy

Here is a flyer for the event. Due to the Mayoral Debate, we moved to Wednesday! Please spread the word and post it to your blogs.

The problem with the surprise over the yelling and screaming on the Northside is that there is an obvious need for some people to be heard and they are not being heard.

Having a town hall meeting on casino design and not having ever had a town hall meeting on the violence on the Northside in 2007 is disconcerting. Which relates to my second point.

By the way, Frick Fine Arts Building is at 650 Schenley Drive on Pitt's campus and can be found in Oakland, across from the Carnegie Library, just off of Forbes Ave.
The Panelists Include:
Ervin Dyer, Senior Editor, PITT Magazine (formerly 16 years with the Pgh Post-Gazette) - moderator

Kimberly C. Ellis, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Africana Studies, Chair, Historic Hill Initiative

Noor Ismail, Director, City of Pittsburgh, Department of City Planning

Marimba Milliones, Chair, Hill Community Development Corporation

Rev. James McLemore, Senior Pastor, Bethel AME Church, Hill District

Also Invited:
Carl Redwood, Jr., Chair, One Hill CBA Coalition (or one Executive Committee Member)---declined

Khari Mosley, Campaign Coordinator, Pittsburgh United---declined

Paul A. Ellis, Esq., Negotiator / Legal Advisor, One Hill CBA Coalition---pressured to not participate by One Hill members (it's okay, bro)
Ronell Guy, Housing Alliance of PA, Board Member, Pittsburgh United---had to cancel due to Harrisburg trip.

Our discussions will be undergirded by the groundbreaking research on racial disparities in the City of Pittsburgh, by the Center for the Study of Race and Social Problems
North Siders speak up about casino (Trib, Justin Vellucci)
North Side faces rift over casino (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)
I went to the end of the meeting on the Northside yesterday. The fact that Executive Director of the Northside Leadership Conference, Mark Fatla, quotes Don Barden's agreement as saying the casino will have "no negative impact" on the Northside is ridiculous. There will be a negative impact on the entire City of Pittsburgh and the State of PA for the entire gaming industry. If the 14 neighborhoods represented in the NSLC actually believed this and signed off on this agreement without ever gathering or conducting any research on the social and economic impact of gambling, they would have never agreed to a $3 million dollar deal.

I find it amazing that in all of the 'yelling and screaming' I had to do during the Raise Your Hand! No Casino on the Hill Campaign, no one ever got wind of social and economic impact, eh? Everybody missed the lecture by Robert Goodman, eh?:

Goodman’s book, The Luck Business: The Devastating Consequences and Broken Promises of America’s Gambling Explosion (Simon & Schuster, 1995), is a study of the economic and social impacts of gambling policy in America that grew out of his work as director of the U.S. Gambling Study, a two-year research project funded by the Ford Foundation and the Aspen Institute.

In his book, Goodman writes that many cities are turning to legal gambling with the hope that it will pump money into their economies. But the reality, he says, is that big-spending tourists don’t flock to these casinos, little new money comes into the region, and what local money is spent is diverted from area restaurants, movie theaters, and shops.

It's imperative for everyone to understand that the casino industry is like any other industry considered a 'bottom feeder'---there will be negative consequences to gambling, just as there are to smoking, drinking, eating fast food, etc.

How we mitigate these problems (because people seem to love to drink, gamble, smoke and eat fast food) is another matter. Pretending they will not occur and failing to prepare for them does a disservice to us all.

I spent a great deal of time researching these statistics and Bruce Barron of No Dice is really an expert on the casino industry and is far more stringent than I am about it, mostly because I believe that people have the right and freedom to be foolish if they so choose. The problem, of course, is that their foolish choices do impact us, as a society, so we must all contend with these industries and their impacts.

If people believe that Northside United / Pittsburgh United is the problem and has been dividing community groups and others believe that Mark Fatla and the Northside Leadership Conference are the problem and others believe that Don Barden's Majestic Star Casino is the problem; and still others believe that gaming, itself, is the problem, and yet everyone claims to want good jobs, social services, government accountability and property tax relief, we certainly have alot to talk about, don't we?

This is yet another reason why a critical analysis of the CBA process is needed and will be the first to occur in the City of Pittsburgh. Congratulations to the University of Pittsburgh's Africana Studies Department for having the insight to jumpstart this process and have multiple conversations on this topic!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Critical Analysis of the Community Benefits Agreement Movement

Are you confused by what you're reading in the papers and seeing on television?
Do you feel forced to choose between one neighborhood organization over another?
Were you surprised by the yelling and screaming during the Northside meeting about the casino design?
Are you startled by the jumbled invites, the news on the Hill District and the arena, the introduction of "Pittsburgh United" and what this all means for the City of Pittsburgh and our entire region?
If so, you should come out to the following event:
The University of Pittsburgh, Department of Africana Studies presents
A Critical Analysis of the Community Benefits Agreement Process,
Neighborhood Self-Determination and the One Hill Controversy

The Department of Africana Studies, University of Pittsburgh will present a panel filled with varied and opposing perspectives on the Community Benefits Agreement process in the State of Pennsylvania, with an emphasis on the One Hill Controversy (contentious issues surrounding the One Hill CBA process in the Hill District community and across the City of Pittsburgh).

WHO: Department of Africana Studies, University of Pittsburgh

WHAT: A Critical Analysis of the CBA process in Pittsburgh, PA

WHERE: Frick Fine Arts Building, Campus of the University of Pittsburgh
(across from Carnegie Library in Oakland, on Schenley Dr.)

WHEN: Tuesday, October 9, 2007, 6:30pm (seating begins at 6pm)

Topics to explore:

The role of the press (are they just reporting? dividing? conquering?)

The role of the foundation / funding community (who is paying for this and why?)

The role of the faith-based institutions (how important are the ministers and churches, really?)

The role of the labor movement, in general, and Pittsburgh United, in particular

The role of community groups and their fight for resources and self-determination

And more...

You should anticipate open discussion and debate from varied and opposing perspectives, grounded in scholarship and reflection, the first of a series.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Hill is En Vogue

Tonight, I went to see "Off the Record VII: Blogged to Death" at the Byham Theater and found it to be rather funny. They parodied the bus transit situation, the smoking ban, Joe Hardy's marriage/s, Dan and Luke, Art Rooney (Steelers), Don Barden (Majestic Star Casino) and Bob Nutting (Pirates). And, although I hear the actor who played Don Barden is in this show every year, I find it amazing how much he resembled Barden. Plus, they did him justice in the writing:

Up yours! That's the new North Shore!

I really appreciate the lack of racism, folks. It's so refreshing, especially in Pittsburgh. I also enjoyed the satirical take on appealing to Dan Onorato on behalf of the Hill District community. I think, perhaps, I enjoyed it so much because, well, I had already done this near-exact act in my own show, "Dr. Goddess Goes to Jail, a spoken word, musical comedy (unfortunately) based on a true story". I read in the program that none other than the P-G's Casino Journalist, Bill Toland, was a lyricist for this show; and I like his writing but he and P-G Theater Critic and OTR Producer, Chris Rawson, owe me royalties, big time.


Because Rawson reviewed my show and said:

In the play, Dr. Goddess is an incarnation of the Hill -- imposing, angry, funny and smart . . . . Some [skits] have the bite of George Wolfe's famous satire, "Colored Museum." I loved the "Evita" and "Dreamgirls" parodies.

In "Off the Record VII", the Hill was a Black woman named "Shaniqua" who was, you guessed it, 'an incarnation of the Hill --- imposing, angry, funny and smart', who engaged in a "Dreamgirls" parody---singing the exact, same song. Now, I don't know if Toland witnessed 'Dr. Goddess Goes to Jail' but he wrote about me and my work for a while and I'm 99.9% certain that he read Rawson's review, don'tcha think? In the Hip Hop world, that's called "bitin'". And together, I suppose, we owe the creator of "Dreamgirls". But, my show is still touring and I'm glad that this one was 'one night only'. Otherwise, it would be extremely unfair to me and my work, thankyouverymuch.

Still, the actress/singer did a fine job as both Jennifers (Hudson and Holiday) and Toland's lyrics were both hilarious and meaningful---just like in my show. By the way, Bill, I missed you last night. It would have been nice to (finally) meet you. Great seeing you, Chris and thanks again! Overall, I enjoyed the entire production. See you all next year!

On another note:

My first response to Republican Mayoral Candidate, Mark DeSantis' publicity stunt in the Hill District is, "oh, please" but why shouldn't he join in on the "The Hill is En Vogue!" routine right about now. Everybody has leapt to their feet to "assist" in the Hill's notoriety but don't be surprised when we question your timing. Where were you last year, Mark? Where were you even six months ago? Heck, where were you last week? What you can do for us, Mark, is get your fellow Republican Presidential Candidates to be respectful enough to appear at the RPC forum in Baltimore with Tavis Smiley.

That way, you can truly be ahead of the curve instead of scrambling to catch up on the fashion trend.

Speaking of, that forum occurred last night but you all get my point.

Can't You Feel A Brand New Day?

Dr. Goddess is blogging! ;-)

Everybody look around
'Cause there's a reason to rejoice you see
Everybody come out
And let's commence to singing joyfully
Everybody look up
And feel the hope that we've been waiting for

Everybody's glad
Because our silent fear and dread is gone
Freedom, you see, has got our hearts singing so joyfully
Just look about
You owe it to yourself to check it out
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?

Everybody be glad
Because the sun is shining just for us
Everybody wake up
Into the morning into happiness

Hello world
It's like a different way of living now
And thank you world
We always knew that we'd be free somehow
In harmony
And show the world that we've got liberty

It's such a change
For us to live so independently
Freedom, you see, has got our hearts singing so joyfully
Just look about
You owe it to yourself to check it out
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?